Earlier this year I received a Facebook message from a stranger advising of the submission deadline for Philadelphia’s Urban Suburban Film Festival. Annoyed as I had never met him, never heard of the festival and felt violated as he was able to inbox me though we were not Facebook friends, I wished him well and proceeded with my day. Fast forward a few months, I am in Philadelphia visiting family during the festival period and decided to attend.
Presented with support from the Bahamas Television and Film Commission, the Crowne Plaza Hotel Philadelphia West and Lique Productions, the Urban Suburban Film Festival, as described by George Blackmon, chief marketing executive & co-founder, was created to bring together artists who have a passion for filmmaking and seek to find an opportunity to showcase and distribute their films. Though I’m unable to validate the distribution claim, I can attest to the presence of some passionate indie filmmakers including Patrick Pierre and Los Angeles’ very own Eric Haywood, digital content guru and web series creator Al Thompson and Kellie R. Griffin, creator of BET’s “Reed Between the Lines”.
In its fifth year, the Urban Suburban Film Festival is an intimate gathering of emerging filmmakers and provides a networking platform for those interested in showcasing their films. George Blackmon is at the helm of the organization and I had the opportunity to interview him after this year’s festival and this is what he had to say.
Q: How did the festival start?
A: I was roped in to the festival world about 7 or 8 years ago by my brother who worked for Lincoln Mercury, a sponsor of ABFF, which started me to thinking. Why don’t we have that in Philly? You know we got all these different things. Philadelphia probably has more than its share of film festivals, but their was no diverse African American centralized festivals and that’s what really started it.
Q: What is the submission process?
A: We took a different tactical approach this year. We were using an organization called Without a Box and we didn’t use them this year just because we were trying to drive down our costs and we felt as though there wasn’t really the value. We went directly to the filmmakers. We basically email blasted. We built our own database over the last 5 years with filmmakers that either A) got selected or didn’t get selected so we have our own database now of several thousand filmmakers so we just email blasted them saying hey submit.
Q: How many submissions do you receive annually?
A: Every year is always different and it’s always interesting that we are, Urban Suburban truly is diverse. We get no less than 75 submissions and our submissions tend to be as reflective of the name. We get more submissions from overseas than most people can imagine. Now a lot of times…unless they don’t have english subtitles, that would be the only reason we won’t show it. Last year I think we had 12 foreign subtitle movies, which was huge for a film festival that tends to have more African American submissions. Foreign submissions tend to stay away from it cuz they don’t think we’ll judge them fairly. This year I believe we had 72 submissions.
Q: How many films do you screen over the three day festival?
A: We always start off with a preview show Thursday and Friday is our opening night. We screen in total at least 15 films a day so in total we screen about 50 films over the festival weekend.
Q: How has the festival grown since its inception?
A: We’ve been blessed that we’ve gotten what I call steady consistent growth in a sense that we have locked in with the independent filmmakers and now the vets are starting to inquiring so now we’re getting those Vanessa Bell Calloways, Melissa De Sousas, Kellie Griffins, who wrote over 100 episodes with Tyler Perry. They’re participating now because I think they see the value- that as movie houses make less movies that they need to also be connected to the young people and those networks the Aspire television networks and the other upstarts you know Bounce and other television stations they’re rising and the internet is rising so they’re seeing the value now.
To learn more about the Urban Suburban Film Festival visit their website, their Facebook fan page or follow them on Twitter.